Bill to ban misleading ads moved in Indian Parliament

Dark clouds over fairness creams


March 2, 2020

/ By / Kolkata

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ban misleading ads

The four faces skin tone in ads (credit:

The health ministry of Indian government has introduced a Bill in Parliament to ban misleading ads and proposing a penalty of INR five million and prison for five years on its violation.

India has been obsessed with fair skin for long which can be evidenced even in their religious tales and songs! “Yashomati maiyaa se bole Nand Lala, Radha kyun gori, main kyun kala” (Lord Krishna asks his mother Yashoda, why is Radha fair, and why am I dark). This sentiment has often been reiterated in the most influential medium of India – Bollywood with its picturisation and songs. This racist message has since been reinforced for decades by companies making cosmetic products notably fairness creams that claim to be the solution to all problems, from low self-esteem to unemployment! And not only these, but the last decade has seen a boom in television and internet advertisements promoting what is perfect from skin colour to weight to height, everything.

The Indian Health Ministry has introduced the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Bill, 2020 with an aim to ban or make the misleading advertisements which promote fairness creams, obesity reduction pills, increase height and other such things punishable by law. While this is a much-required step taken by the government to curb such false information-spreading mediums, is it enough to remove the internalised obsessions of the Indian society regarding the same.

Skin colour and perfect figure prevail to be the criteria for acceptance in Indian society as seen commonly in the matrimonial ads where the emphasis is given on ‘slim, fair, good-looking brides’ or ‘tall grooms’. Sometimes it even extends to employment and these lead to insecurity among people which is then capitalised on by the fairness and beauty products. The advertisements manipulate these insecurities about looks like being dark, obese or short and relate them to the reasons for failure in life and the opposites (fair, slim, tall) are relegated to be the key for success.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?

The fairness cream ads began by marketing themselves as the key for girls to make a good marriage and put an end to rejection due to skin colour. With time, the focus shifted to women as well as men in the workplace being rejected due to dark complexion, where the product comes in as the confidence needed to land the job. Soon they even moved on to include men being fair, the products promoted by a few of the well-known faces in Bollywood.

Even the names of the products seem to be promoting the same ideas like Fair and Lovely, Fair and Handsome. While other beauty product companies like Lakme, Maybelline and Garnier also had similar products, they tried to be inclusive by introducing different variants for different skin tones. The fairness creams are not just limited to just fairness, but have moved on to provide HD glow!

Changing scenario

It was in 2015 when a Delhi consumer court fined Emami, the skin and healthcare company’s face cream Fair and Handsome  INR 1.5 million for being guilty of “misrepresentation to the public.” The court had said, “It uses the word gorapan in advertisement No 1, which means fair complexion. In advertisement No 2, it gives out a promise that the use of the product for a period of four weeks will ensure a fair complexion.”

There have been many initiatives undertaken to fight against society’s obsession with fair skin. Women of Worth, a non-profit organisation launched ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign in 2009 while actor-director Nandita Das began an initiative ‘India’s Got Colour’ last year, that promoted diversity in skin colour.




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